To the east of busy Highway 124 lies a quiet place of prayer, here since 1974. Located on 27 acres, the Monastery of the Visitation has been located in Snellville since 1974.
The community of the Monastery of the Visitation first began in Toledo, Ohio with 40 sisters. In 1954, they created a foundation in Georgia, and have been in Snellville for nearly 40 years. The 12 nuns of this monastery belong to the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary, which was founded in 1610 by St. Frances de Sales in Annecy and St. Jane, a widow, in Haute-Savoire, France.
Much like founder St. Jane, Mother M. Jane Frances, mother superior of the Snellville Monastery, came to live at the monastery after the death of her husband.
"At 61 I was retired from my profession as a critical care nurse , and my nine children were all grown," she said. "Like any spiritual vocation you have to be called it's not something you just decide is a good idea. I had a priest as a spiritual advisor who talked me through it."
Women interested in becoming sisters within the monastery have a nearly six-year process to complete before taking their permanent vows. Once these vows have been taken a sister becomes a permanent part of the community, one of her many responsibilities is physical chores.
As a self-sustaining entity daily chores of cleaning, maintaining the grounds, making vestments and cooking are the responsibility of the nuns. There are women from all walks of life at the Monastery of the Visitation.
"Our physical work is not like other contemporary orders. We have a sister in our community that is blind. She was a corporate attorney and she does fine. We also have sister who is deaf, who was a mathematician by profession," Frances said.
The physical labor of most religious communities within the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary is traditionally more demanding. In addition to having disabled sisters there are nuns from other parts of the world. According to Mother Jane Frances, a large portion of the global population of nuns in contemporary monasteries comes from Spanish countries.
The Monastery of the Visitation is papal enclosure, meaning they do not leave the grounds to visit their families. Families who live nearby are allowed to visit the sisters once a month; many maintain contact through letters and phone calls because the monastery does not use the Internet. In cases of dying relatives, sisters are given a compassionate leave to spend time with their loved one.
Mother Jane Frances and her assistant do all of the grocery shopping, and when the sisters need to visit the doctor a car is arranged to take them to their appointment.
The sisters primarily live in silence, only speaking while necessary when performing daily work or during their recreational time. Although this may seem restrictive to the average person Mother Jane Frances believes it helps the sisters to remember their purpose.
“We are here to pray, that is our purpose," she said. "It’s important that we remove distractions from our work and stay focused on what God’s task is for us.”
It is not always so solemn at the Monastery of the Visitation; the sisters often have movie nights where they will watch Christian documentaries or G-rated movies typically meant for children, and they have three dogs that live on the grounds. When the nuns are working they maintain a busy schedule that requires them to start their day at 5:30 a.m. each morning. They hold mass and say prayers in their chapel on the grounds.
In most instances the general public is not allowed into the Monastery of the Visitation without invitation. Members of the order will occasionally visit and nuns who are on retreat are welcome to stay at the monastery. Although the public will never meet most of these nuns, Mother Jane Frances believes everyone is connected.
Today there are nearly 150 visitation monasteries, spread throughout Europe and North America. In the United States, there are monasteries in Alabama, the District of Columbia, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Virginia and Brooklyn, in addition to the one in Snellville.
“More than anything we want the community of Snellville to know that we pray for them as we pray for the world," Frances said. "Nuns are praying all over the world 24 hours a day, so people should know that someone is always praying for them.”